Private with Chatchai Sasakul – Perfecting the Jab, Cross, Hook and Uppercut
A private session filmed for Nak Muay Nation. The full hour of our session can be found unlocked for members there, below is a 10 minute segment, along with detail GIFs of important points in technique.
Chatchai is compact. He’s not “small,” but the overall impression of his size is certainly larger and more hulking than what his factual height and weight might be. He has a very friendly and open demeanor, he offers praise and correction in encouraging measures, and to watch him move when he shows you what he wants you to do is like watching a bird take flight. It’s so streamlined and beautiful, so much power in utter economy of movement. Then he just looks at you like, “can you dig it?”
Chatchai’s gym is off a main highway that runs through Bangkok, and indeed it’s up a flight of stairs on the second floor of what appears to be an art gallery (map at bottom). The parking lot is lined on either side with coffee shops and when we pulled up there was a man giving his cat a very elaborate grooming process, like it was his prized possession. The bottom floor of the gym building is mainly empty space, but in a minimalist sense rather than it feeling barren. Again, like an art gallery. Upstairs at the gym is also minimal, but in a way that feels honest and straight forward. The gym is narrow and deep, with a mirror at the front end (which has all the nice natural light), a few heavybag trees against the wall and a ring at the far end. The floor is covered in nice, clean mats all the way back. The set up is appropriately in line with Chatchai’s style as well. Keeping in mind that I only spent an hour with him, so obviously there are graduated processes involved in training with someone for longer stretches, I really appreciated how basic his approach was – fundamentals.
Chatchai is something of a national sports hero in that he held the 112 lb Flyweight WBC belt, a belt taken from him by an up and coming young Filipino star named Manny Paciquiao. Boxing success on the international stage is carries great weight with Thai sports fans, and Chatchai was one of Thailand’s best. You can see his career numbers here. With 430 rounds boxed and only 4 losses, he was a beast. He is not only an acclaimed fighter with a decorated past, he also won the Siam Sports 2011 Coach of the Year Award, which goes to the best coach across all sport disciplines, not just that of Muay Thai.
In filming this private for Nak Muay Nation I told him, as I always do in these privates, “I want to learn your style” and he took me right down to basics, the building blocks of everything. And my goodness, he really does have incredible technique. One of the more interesting things about his style, as it relates to Muay Thai, is that after this lesson with him I was looking at an IFMA animation database of Muay Boran strikes and realized that even though this is boxing, it actually has great similarity, and even likely roots, in the precursor to Muay Thai, Muay Boran.
The First 10 Minutes of Our Session – Excerpt
above, the first 10 minutes of our session, the full session can be unlocked by Nak Muay Nation members.
Chatchai’s Strikes – Crosses, Hooks, Uppercuts
This GIF illustrates this center line I’m talking about. His head and torso look to be still, but all the torque and power of “striking from the hips” comes through by the dramatic and utterly symmetrical movements from his waist down. He pivots on the balls of his feet and turns the knees, which balance with the rotation of the hips. So clean.
Chatchai Jab – With Step Out and Heel Turn
Chatchai’s jab is awesome. It’s super straight and long, like it could crash straight through someone’s jaw with minimal effort. He steps forward on it, but with the lead foot slightly out to give more base to the frame of the stance, which makes the jab come out really straight. If you step straight forward, as many people do, you can end up leaning over your jabbing shoulder in order to balance yourself and you lose power that way. The little heel-turn that Chatchai teaches makes it easy to land with full body-weight with the punch, then be immediately ready to move back to your initial position or take a step forward and throw the right cross on top of the jab. It’s very balanced with a solid, but ambulant base. The heel turn also makes the strike a mirror parallel to the cross, and for him it forces you to stay flat and stable on your back foot, which grounds your jab and keeps the weight transfer solid. Do you drag your back foot (this stability in the rear foot, albeit with different technique, is something that Jack Dempsey also taught don’t drag the rear foot).
He showed me how everyone kind of “naturally” turns their back heel on a cross, to give length to a punch and maintain balance. But nobody does this on the front side, which he thinks is so odd. It is a bit odd. Again, it’s not intuitive, but once you try it the logic and practicality of it reveal themselves. It becomes natural very quickly.
Chatchai Cross – Tucked Elbow, No Chickenwing
I was cracking myself up with this. Chatchai wanted me to throw a better, more powerful and straighter cross by keeping my elbow closer to my body. You don’t “wind up” on the punch, but you create tension in the arm with a squeeze, almost like pulling back a bow and arrow and then releasing it like a spring; your hips will turn as you throw the punch in order to execute the strike. My elbow coming out was cracking me up because it’s so ridiculous and useless, like a chickenwing flapping around. Chatchai was far too kind to correct it every time I did it, but I could feel the difference and self-corrected many times. This is what I mean about the practicality of his techniques – once you see and feel them, you can self-diagnose and correct based on the immediate feeling of being off-balance or a reduction in power. What is that stupid chickenwing about? It makes my cross inconsistent (the angle is always different) and inaccurate. Also, if you miss when throwing with your elbow out like that, you’re going to throw your whole body with it and fall forward. If you miss with the tight arm, as Chatchai demonstrates it, you’re perfectly on balance to throw something else.
Chatchai Uppercuts – Centerline
Here’s another perfect example of Chatchai’s center line and economical movement. He steps and brings his weight over to the side in preparation for the power to come with the uppercut. You can see in the lower GIF that I lean too far forward, skewing that center line, but Chatchai is utterly symmetrical. He steps a little, brings his shoulder around that center line, and then uses a shift in weight from his front leg to his back leg as he rotates to bring the left knee in, pivoting on the front foot, and his uppercut is in perfect alignment with his turning knee. In the mirror you could have drawn a perfectly straight line all the way down from his fist, to elbow, to knee. In the top GIF he shows how to keep the elbows in toward the center, but there’s a looseness in the shoulder so you’re not forcing or muscling the move. I love how boxers can pop their shoulders like that.
Chatchai Standard Hook – Twist Deep
Chatchai’s balance is like a pyramid. His feet and knees do the most dramatic turning, his hips and torso just pivot around the center line, and he keeps his shoulders and elbows close to his torso so that maximum power comes out of minimal effort. You can see in this GIF he’s pointing to his elbow, which he keeps tight to his body until the punch comes up for the rotation. He insisted that the hook is the same as an elbow, which I could see when mapped on to the elbow that Yodkhunpon (“The Elbow Hunter”) taught me – you can see those elbows in this session I filmed for Nak Muay Nation earlier. There’s a looseness to it that comes from not muscling it and letting the torque of the body turning be the main power source. Chatchai also insisted that the elbow (on the hook) should cross the center line of your opponent, so the fist actually comes back around toward you (hence, “hooking” back), which I call a “drive by.” The punch goes through the target, rather than just slamming into it and stopping.
Chatchai Walk Across Hook
Watch his feet and the symmetrical shift in weight. This move reminds me of the “tiger walk” in the Khorat style of Muay Boran, which you see elements of in the Wai Kru/ Ram Muay. He’s guarded/protected with every movement and the transition in weight makes every position very powerful. He initiates the move by blocking on the right side, pulling his shoulder forward and stepping very slightly forward and out with the lead leg. Then, from this position is the execution of the actual strike, which is the step slightly forward and wide with the right foot and bringing that hook around as your weight shifts over to the right leg via the pivot of the left foot and knee. It’s so slick, so economical, so powerful… so balanced and beautiful.
Visiting Chatchai at Susakul Gym in Bangkok
The full hour of this private is available for members of Nak Muay Nation.
Check out all my Nak Muay Nation Feature articles here, the best Krus in Thailand.
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